Israeli security forces prevented a major terrorist attack in the northern Negev when they captured the members of an Israeli Arab terror cell last month, the General Security Service (Shin Bet) intelligence agency revealed on Tuesday.
Shin Bet agents and Israel Police forces captured two operatives in a joint operation carried out in the Negev region.
The terrorists were planning an attack against IDF soldiers, according to a statement by the Shin Bet, but there are other pieces in the puzzle not yet completely put into place.
Muhammad Masri, 37, of Be’er Sheva and Abdullah Abu Ayash, 26, were arrested by Shin Bet agents. During questioning one of the suspects revealed that Masri suggested carrying out a terror attack to avenge Israel’s ban on the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.
Abu Ayash agreed to the suggestion and the two planned the attack against IDF soldiers in three potential sites: the northern Negev cities of Dimona and Arad, and the Nevatim Air Base.
It is ironic that in all three of the target sites, the potential victims would inevitably include Negev Bedouin, Druze and Israeli Arab citizens, who live and own businesses in both cities, and are in all three places.
As part of the preparations for the attack, the operatives conducted a preliminary tour to gather information about the potential sites for their attack.
During the investigation, the forces also confiscated a Carl Gustav submachine gun and a large amount of hardware to be used for triggering explosives from a distance by one or both of the terrorists.
The leader of the terror cell, Muhammad Masri, has been employed for the past year as a deputy branch manager at the King Store Mashadawi” in Be’er Sheva, where Abdullah Abu Ayash was also employed. The two formed their relationship while working together at the store.
Masri has a long history of terrorist activity: He was released from prison just three years ago, in 2013, after serving a 12-year prison term for his involvement in planning a terrorist attack by the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades at a banquet hall in Herzliya.
While in prison, Masri developed a strong relationship with Hamas terrorists from Gaza, Judea and Samaria, including a friendship with senior Hamas leader Yechiyeh Sanwar. In the years following, Masri pledged his loyalty to the flag of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and took part in its activities.
In addition, three Israeli residents of Negev communities were also detained for questioning in connection with allegations of involvement in weapons sales and similar transactions with Masri and Abu Ayash.
Bakhar Abu Tuqfa, 21, and Rami Abu Tuqfa, 22, both residents of Segev Shalom; and and Mahmoud Abu Kaf, 26, a member of the Bedouin tribe of Daw’it, near Nevatim, were all taken into custody.
Preliminary investigation from questioning of these individuals revealed information about the involvement of other Negev residents in weapons trade and other criminal activities.
“Indictments are pending against Muhammad Masri and Abdullah Abu Ayash,” the Shin Bet said in its statement. “The investigation is continuing and more arrests are expected.”